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Informational Interviewing

Informational interviews are effective career conversations that allow you to learn more about a particular career path and/or organization. During these conversations, you may also have the opportunity to make a good impression and promote your skills by sharing your experiences and accomplishments. As such, informational interviews are great for career exploration, networking, and even job hunting.


Professionals are busy people, so informational interviews typically last only about 15-30 minutes. You can approach a variety of professionals for these interviews: industry experts, current practitioners, human resources representatives or recruiters, etc.

I have never heard of informational interviews before. Do people really do it in Canada or in my professional field?

Absolutely! Informational interviews are very common in the Canadian workplace. While some professional fields may be more familiar with the concept than others, informational interviewing is definitely a legitimate tool for career exploration and networking. It is gaining momentum in all professions. Just take the first step to initiate contact, and remember that there is no harm in asking.

What are the steps to conducting an informational interview?
  1. Ask yourself what you are interested in learning more about (e.g. a particular occupation or company).

  2. Identify individual(s) who can tell you more about that occupation or company. (See “How do I find potential interviewees?” below for tips.)

  3. Introduce yourself to the individual, and mention how you found their contact information and what you want to ask them about; then request a meeting. (See “How do I introduce myself?” below for tips.)

  4. Research the company and/or the individual’s career path to generate well-researched questions for the interview: you have limited time with this person so be prepared.

  5. Practice articulating your own skills and accomplishments — there may well be opportunities for you to tell this individual a bit about yourself.

  6. Contact the person the day before the interview to confirm your appointment time.

  7. Dress appropriately (business-formal or business-casual), be on time, and respect the time limit of the informational interview; always remain professional.

  8. Thank the person for their time with a follow-up email within 1–2 days of the interview, maintain the connection, and schedule a follow-up meeting if appropriate.
  9. Evaluate the information you have gathered (e.g. are you still interested in this occupation/company?) and your performance at the interview (e.g. are there questions that you can ask in future interviews?). Develop an action plan of next steps.

 

How do I find potential interviewees?


You can always start by approaching people in your existing personal and professional networks (e.g. professors/instructors, placement coordinators, various student groups, friends and family, etc.) to see if they can answer your questions, or introduce you to someone who can.
 

There are various social media platforms that can connect you to an exciting world of professionals from various fields and disciplines in your local area. LinkedIn, Ten Thousand Coffees, and Meetup are just a few examples. You can also identify interesting organizations and individuals in your field for informational interviews through industry directories and professional associations.
 

Even job posting websites such as Indeed can help you identify companies of which you were not previously aware. From there, you can dig a little deeper by visiting each organization’s website to see if you can find the contact information of the central office or individual staff members.
 

As you can see, finding potential interviewees for informational interviews requires some investigative work. It’s the perfect opportunity to put the research skills you gained through academic work to use!

How do I introduce myself?


You can request for an informational interview in person, via email, or by phone. Sometimes, a combination of different communication channels is required (e.g. following up by phone or email after initially asking someone in person for an informational interview at a networking event).

You should always be open and upfront about why you want to conduct an informational interview with this individual. Here are a few examples to help you initiate contact:

 

  • “Hello, my name is ______. I understand that you are a [their occupation]. I am currently exploring this as my future career path, and I wonder if I could take 20 minutes of your time to learn more about what you do/your career field.”

  • “Hello, my name is ______. A mutual acquaintance, ______, suggested that I contact you to find out more about [occupation/company]. Will you be willing to speak with me soon in person or over Skype/phone? I will only need 20 minutes of your time.”

  • “Hello, my name is ______. I saw on LinkedIn that we are both Ryerson students/alumni, and that you work as/for [occupation/company]. Could I take 20 minutes of your time to find out what advice you have for someone who is looking forward to becoming/joining [occupation/company]?”

 

Note that these are only suggestions to get you started. You should personalize them to fit your own voice. This will help your personality come through. Just remember to be courteous and professional in all your communications.

What if they say no to my interview request?

As with any networking effort, it is perfectly natural that some people will reject your request for an informational interview for various reasons. Don’t be discouraged, and be reassured that there are many others who will be willing and available to help you out by answering your questions.
 

If your request for an informational interview is rejected, politely thank the person for taking the time to respond to you. If it is appropriate, you can also ask them if they could recommend someone else to whom you could talk.

What are some good questions to ask during informational interviews?

What questions you ask during informational interviews will really depend on what you want to learn more about. The key to generating excellent questions is to be well-researched and clear, but here are some examples of general questions to consider:

 

About the Occupation:

  • What is a typical workday like for you and what are your working conditions like?

  • What are the most rewarding/challenging things about your job?

  • What are some industry trends that are affecting your occupation right now, and how will it evolve in the next few years?

  • How does your job contribute to your organization’s overall goals or mission?

 

About the Company:

  • How would you describe the culture and environment of your organization?

  • What kind of professional development opportunities does your organization offer its employees?

  • How does your organization support its employees’ work-life balance?

  • What are some skills/qualities that your organization values in its employees?

 

About the Individual You Are Interviewing:

  • What kind of education and training did you receive to enter this field?

  • Can you tell me a bit about your own professional journey/transitions, and how you got to where you are today?

  • What advice do you have for a student/recent graduate who is looking to enter this field/join this company?

  • I am interested in learning more about ______. Who else do you think I could benefit from talking to? Will you feel comfortable making an introduction?

Can I ask employers for a job during an informational interviews?


Informational interviews are not job interviews. Asking for a job during an informational interview is like asking someone you just met whether they could help you move to a new house — you probably don’t know that person well enough to be asking for such a big favour yet.
 

Before someone feels comfortable enough to offer or recommend you for a position, they need to know and trust you. This kind of relationship building takes time, but informational interviewing is a great first step to introduce yourself to others and start cultivating these professional relationships to generate or learn of job leads.

View Career Compass for more tips from career experts, industry professionals and alumni.